University of South Carolina

5 years, 5 continents, 5 birds

By Craig Brandhorst, CRAIGB1@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3681

Nobody should be alone on Thanksgiving — even someone who doesn't know what Thanksgiving is.

That’s Travis Weatherford’s holiday philosophy. And also why Weatherford’s thrown a Thanksgiving dinner for USC’s international students at Main Street’s Immaculate Consumption every year since 2008.

Begun as a way to share a bit of American culture with USC’s international student population, the annual invitation-only feast also provides students from other countries a place to enjoy good food and the company of others when traveling home isn’t an option.

“They come to the United States and it can be difficult for them to find connections with Americans, “ says Weatherford, recalling his decision to host the first event five years ago. “It seemed very likely that many of them would be spending the holiday alone, perhaps with friends but maybe not.”

This year’s guest list is “proportional to the university’s international population,” which means that among the 80 guests attending this year’s event will be students from multiple countries on five different continents, says Weatherford, USC's immigration information coordinator. Not surprisingly, many of them know little about the American holiday.

“Often, when they reply to the invitation they’ll say, ‘I haven’t experienced a Thanksgiving before,’” Weatherford says. ”This is their first exposure to Thanksgiving traditions.”

A USC alumnus, Weatherford, '93, also trained as pastry chef at the Culinary Institute of America and works a couple of mornings each week at Immaculate Consumption before punching the clock at USC’s Office of International Support for Faculty and Staff. When the idea for the Thanksgiving dinner first occurred to him, his first thought was to ask Immaculate Consumption’s owner Rob Reed if he could use the restaurant’s space.

“As an avocation I bake pastries there, so I asked Rob if he would indulge me,” says Weatherford. “He’s been very generous and really deserves a lot of credit, even though he doesn’t want it.”

Several USC faculty and staff members also deserve credit, says Weatherford, including USC’s curator of newsfilm collections Greg Wilsbacher, English professor Ed Gieskes, education professor Kara Brown and librarians Brian Cuthrell, Sharon Verba and Marilee Birchfield.  

And if that sounds like a lot of cooks in the kitchen, consider the size of the menu.

Two years ago, Weatherford and his crew of volunteers roasted three turkeys, plus extra dark meat, which he says is always popular.  Last year, they roasted four. This year, thanks to some additional help in the kitchen from an old culinary school friend, Maggie Wheeler, he plans to roast five birds, though only one will emerge from the oven ready for the photo-op.

“Due to the limitations of our ovens I have to deconstruct the birds somewhat to make everything fit and so they can roast simultaneously,” says Weatherford. “It’s left to Greg to produce the Norman Rockwell ‘show bird’ for display purposes.”

In addition to all that turkey, guests will sup on a buffet of other Thanksgiving favorites, including stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy, rice, green beans and butternut squash. Regional favorites such as collard greens and black-eyed peas will round out the main meal, which will be followed, of course, by an abundance of sweets.

“Ed Gieskes always brings beautiful pies, and this year my friend Maggie and I made some chocolate confections,” Weatherford says, referring to the 300 pumpkin spice and ginger-and-dark chocolate truffles the two filled at Immaculate Consumption on Sunday.

“We’ll also make some seasonally-appropriate desserts like pumpkin cheesecake,” says Weatherford, who jokes that everyone must have their fill for the event to be a success.

“That’s imperative,” Weatherford says. “They are required to leave full. I ring the dinner bell, ask them to wait a respectable few minutes while our older parents go through the buffet, then tell them that the tradition of Thanksgiving is to eat too much and pass out in front of the television.”

The fact that Immaculate Consumption doesn’t have any televisions is irrelevant, as Weatherford also insists that his guests take home as many leftovers as possible and repeat the gluttony in the comfort of their own homes.

“Even with this many people there’s always still leftovers,” says Weatherford.  “So we send those home with people and tell them that’s also an important tradition, that six hours later they eat the exact same meal. That’s Thanksgiving.”

News and Internal Communications

Posted: 11/20/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 11/21/12 @ 11:10 AM | Permalink